Marrying a Family

There is a saying out there that says something to the effect of “you don’t just marry an individual, you marry a family.” In my case, I feel like I married a country. At any rate, I’m going to go ahead and assume that I’m not the only one who felt a little out of place with my new tribe.

First off, the sheer number of this new clan was devastatingly intimidating. I didn’t take me long to realize that a family get-together included my mother-in-law’s eight siblings plus their children and grandchildren. I kept confusing Uncle Dagoberto with Uncle Rigoberto and couldn’t remember if I’d already talked to Aunt Eda or if that was actually Aunt Nidia … or wait? Second, I was still speaking three year old (or worse) equivalent Spanish when we got married. Very few people speak English in Al’s family, so I had to prove how cool I was while speaking toddler. Most of them would just stare at me … probably because I was a hot mess. Speaking so much Spanish would give me shaky hands and sweaty everything else.

I guess I assumed that I would seamlessly slip right into the family because I’m generally comfortable in new social situations. The difference with this situation, however, was that I married these people and we didn’t understand each other at all. As I’m typing this, I am asking my mother-in-law (who is here playing with my daughter so I can write and clean the house, bless her) what the hardest part of me becoming part of the family was for her. Here were her top 4 (and I think she could have thought of more but she had mercifully stopped after the overarching statement “your way of life”):

  1.      Language: She said the language was hard because “they had no idea if I could understand anything they were saying.” I thought that they knew I could understand because I would answer their questions, but apparently I was wrong. I remember on two separate occasions my suegra showed up with preschool level books and tried to get me to repeat the most basic Spanish verbs because my accent was bad. Shot to the heart.
  2.      Food: She said that they didn’t know what to offer me or feed me because I was from a different culture. Valid, but I will generally eat anything that isn’t still moving, so I had no idea this was a concern of theirs.
  3.      Physical touch: They love to greet each other with a kiss and they are very touchy. They weren’t sure I wanted them to touch me. I can handle the fake kiss on the cheek when greeting, but I guess they were afraid to go further than that?
  4.      My way of life: She said I did a lot of different things and they didn’t understand. I’m not going to elaborate because that one definitely goes both ways; basically, they thought I was a weirdo whenever I did anything.

Okay, so being the only white girl in the family was challenging and still is at times. For a while, I tried SO HARD to just become one of them, which made me feel like a wanna-be imposter in Costa Rica and a dirty cheater on my beloved ‘Merican heritage. I had a minor identity crisis. I finally realized that no matter how hard I tried, I was always going to be really tall (almost 6 feet, which is like a foot taller than most Costa Ricans), really white (no matter how much I tanned), and really loud (my whisper voice is basically non-existent). I finally swallowed the fact that while I could improve my pronunciation, my accent was permanent because I didn’t learn Spanish as a kid.  I stopped trying to impress them with my Costa Rican cuisine expertise and made them gringo delicacies like Thanksgiving stuffing, zucchini bread, and all things pumpkin. It’s just now setting in that I can go around and kiss everyone when I enter the room, but also that they understand not to be offended if I do just a general “hola” addressed to all. In short, once I got over myself and my insecurities of feeling like I needed to fit in, everyone got a lot more comfortable.

Now that we have almost four years under our belts and my Latino family is used to me being tall, loud, white, and weird, I am finally myself (well, I try to be). I listen to the opinions they have (Oh, and do they have them. Especially about my daughter :-/), I respect their customs, and I embrace the parts of their culture that I love. It’s also okay that I’m my own person and bring my opinions, customs, and culture to the family as well.

These past few months I’ve been working hard to acknowledge Albin’s family as “my family” instead of me always referring to them as “Albin’s family.” Does that make sense? Because it’s not “my family” or “Albin’s family” anymore. It’s our family. That clan of Latinos that think my accent sucks is my family. That big white wave of gringos that can’t say Albin’s last name correctly is his family. It’s become our family and we love the madness that comes from our cultural collision.

Albin's gma, mom, and me. I'm leaning, but I'm still giant.

Albin’s gma, mom, and me. I’m leaning, but I’m still giant.

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Top 10 Hardest Things About Bicultural Marriage

Last week I posted about my top ten favorite things about being in a bicultural marriage. To be fair, here are my top ten least favorite things in no particular order. If you’re considering marriage to a foreigner, I hope this list is helpful!

  1. Vacations will almost always be to see family. Unless you’re loaded and/or unemployed, most of your money and vacation time will be dedicated to seeing family. We usually go home to Ohio about once a year. It can be hard to justify spending money to go see a new place when you haven’t seen your parents and sister for a year. Another thorn is my flesh is that in our case, we have to spend a considerable amount of money to go on vacation to Cincinnati, Ohio. I love to visit my family, but Ohio isn’t exactly an exciting travel destination. If we lived in Ohio and went on vacation to see family in Costa Rica, however, I might be singing a different tune.
  1.  Difficulty with jokes and cultural references. In my honest opinion, my family is pretty witty and we joke around about 75 percent of the time. Albin had a hard time keeping up and inserting his own comments for a long time which made him feel outed. I’ve felt the same way with his friends/family so we’ve spent a lot of time educating one another on the millions of puns, sayings, and jokes that exist in each culture. For example, once my sister used the term “throw you under the bus” with Albin. As we were all laughing about how he had just been thrown under the bus, he was still considering why we were talking about him being run over by a bus.
  1.  Truly expressing yourself. Albin speaks English really well and I like to think that I speak Spanish equally as well; however, sometimes it is hard to truly express yourself and have your spouse understand. Expressing your deepest thoughts usually require you using more extensive vocabulary and that can create some misunderstanding or at least not a complete understanding of what you’re trying to get across.
  1.  Being far away for funerals, sicknesses, holidays, etc. Most likely one spouse will be living far away from their family. That part is hard, but Skype is a huge help (My parents skype me every day to watch my daughter do interesting things like smack her lips or roll over). It is almost unbearable, however, to be so far when there are funerals that you can’t get to, extensive illnesses that you can’t help out with, or holidays that you would otherwise enjoy being with your family for. Thanksgiving is always a killer for me because it’s not a thing in CR and my whole extended family gets on Skype while they stuff deep-fried turkey and pumpkin pie into their mouths. Sure I do a Thanksgiving dinner here, but it’s not exactly the same.
  1.  Missing family in general. This has become increasingly harder since the birth of  our daughter. It hurts my heart a little bit to know that my daughter only gets to see my family in person once or twice a year because I want them to be a big part of her life and they want to be a big part of hers. Knowing that you have to get on a long plane ride if you wanted to see them is a bummer most of the time.
  1.  Cultural norms. This is the everyday stuff that you just don’t agree on because you grew up not knowing there were other options (like whether you should eat big lunches or big dinners). One that has been hard for me is a cuota, which is a fee you pay to go to a party, shower, or even a wedding. Oftentimes you are required to pay this fee on top of buying a gift in order to help the host throw the party or finance the wedding. Not only is it hard for me swallow paying to go to someone else’s party, but it is nearly impossible for me to charge a fee for people to come to my parties. Can’t we just do a potluck? No.
  1.  Feeling lonely if you don’t have a community. This has definitely improved for us, but it can be challenging. It can be extremely lonely to not have any friends doing the bicultural marriage thing. Having community in any stage of life is of utmost importance, but this unique circumstance requires it.
  1.  Residency processes and paperwork. Have I mentioned that I hate it? Residency in any country is usually complicated, expensive, and requires a lot of patience. There is a lot of extra paperwork to fill out for every step you take when you’re married to a foreigner. Almost always, there you are required to pay a fee to file the never ending pile of paperwork. Buying a house, paying taxes, getting immigration visas, obtaining permanent residency, proving our child can receive dual citizenship, and obtaining employment are just a few of the processes that have emptied our bank account of thousands of dollars dedicated solely to filing.
  1.  Not having access to certain things (or they’re really expensive). This one doesn’t necessarily require you to be in a bicultural marriage, because this happens when you live almost anywhere overseas. Most likely, however, you or your spouse will be living in a different culture and will miss things you can’t have (probably more than you ever even wanted them when you were living in your own country). For example, Target. Oh how I miss Target. Another example, cheese is expensive here and I love cheese. When I’m in the U.S., I binge on cheese and when I’m in Costa Rica, I agonize in the dairy aisle about whether I should spend $12 on a small block of cheddar. One more: I absolutely love ice cream and I think I shed of tear of joy when a Dairy Queen opened here last year.
  1.  Negative comments. I previously posted a blog about this. People can be very critical of bicultural marriages and relationships. Whether it’s racism, ignorance, concern for your well-being, or just a case of social ineptness, people can say very hurtful things when you decide to do something out of the ordinary. Once you decide to marry a foreigner, be confident in your decision and don’t let negative comments affect your relationship.

If you’re considering a bicultural marriage and have questions or doubts, please hit me up. I’ll try to be as honest (and encouraging) as I can be!

 

Top 10 Favorite Things About Bicultural Marriage

I receive a lot messages from people in bicultural relationships that are considering marriage. Just as in any marriage, a lot of great things can come out of two people doing life together. In this list, however, I’m trying to focus on things that are mostly unique to those marrying a foreigner. In light of that, here are my top ten favorite things about being in a bicultural marriage.

  1.  Kids are bilingual and have an understanding of the world. I love this. I have enjoyed becoming bilingual and I’m even more excited that our children will speak two languages naturally. This will give them many opportunities and will also make learning a third language (if they so desire) much easier. I also love that they will have a broader view of the world and be more culturally aware.
  1.  It’s an adventure; you try new things, eat new foods, etc. Whether you live in your spouse’s country or not, you’re bound to have an adventure. You’ll be exposed to new ways of thinking and doing things, new foods, new customs, and new traditions. You’ll probably get to know his/her country and have fun exploring together. It can be exciting, crazy, overwhelming, and difficult; it will be a lot of things, but I guarantee  boring will not be one of them.
  1.  Two languages/cultures cover over a multitude of sins. This one might just be in my head, but I feel like Albin and I overlook a lot of harsh comments by attributing them to the language differences. If he says something to me in English that seems harsh, I blame it on the fact that he may not know how to say it any other way. If I have a ridiculous personality quirk, he will tend to think it’s just a cultural issue rather than just me being a weirdo. Score.
  1.  You can choose the best parts from each culture to create your own family’s culture. I love this one, too. We’ve been able to integrate both of our cultures into our family culture and choose what we like best. In my mind, our family is getting the best of both worlds when we do it like this.
  1.  I have become Amazon woman. This one might just be from living in a different country or maybe it’s because I wasn’t exposed to this in the U.S., but I have learned so much. As I made Greek yogurt, a week’s worth of baby food, and soaked beans, lentils, and chickpeas to make dinner from scratch the other day, I realized that marrying Albin has forced me to learn how to do things I may not have ever learned living in Cincinnati.
  1.  Your friend group is diverse and fun. Since we are a bicultural family, we naturally tend to hook up with other multicultural families. This opens your mind to a lot of different ways of doing things and you have a lot of opportunities to grow and learn. You meet so many new and different people and become a different (and better) person as a result.
  1.  There is always an excuse to travel. So maybe you’re just going to see family (again) every time you fly anywhere, but at least you’re breaking up the monotony. While traveling for pleasure might not be in the budget, you can always justify going to see family; therefore, you end up getting a vacation without the guilt.
  1.   The thought that God brought together two continents. I just love the thought that God had to rearrange all of our roads and cross borders to bring us together. It reminds me that He has an amazing purpose for us being together whenever things get tough.
  1.  It’s challenging and humbling, but you grow. I’ve been pretty honest about how bicultural marriage can be a challenge, but I’ve also talked about how beauty comes out of struggle. Facing the odds and working hard to make your marriage work creates a love that is steadfast. We have been stretched and as a result, have become more open-minded, mature (I hope), and strong.
  1.  You have to work hard to get to know one another. With language barriers and different cultural norms, you have to work twice as hard to really know each other and understand the other person. This is a positive for me because I see how our marriage has become very transparent as a result. You have to over-communicate and over-explain everything, and that sets a foundation of honesty and directness from the very start.
  1.   I love when my man speaks to me in Spanish. This is the bonus one. No matter how superficial it sounds, having my man speak to me in his love language gets me all hot and bothered lol. Shakira wasn’t messing around when she said, “Oh baby when you talk like that, you make a woman go mad…”

 

Our Poopies (First Year Fails: Part II)

About five months into the madness, Albin finally convinced me that he absolutely HAD to have a dog. At this point we were still living in our rotting apartment (we’ll get to that another day), so I was more than a little hesitant. Apparently his mother had heartlessly deprived him of his childhood dream of having a dog, so it was a big deal to him. To give you an idea of how much Albin loves dogs, I’ll recount an exact quote from Albin: “Tricia, do you know what I would do if we had a million dollars? I would buy tons of land and save tons of homeless puppies.” He refers to all dogs as puppies, even if they’re all old and crusty. My favorite part is that for a long time, he would always confuse the word and call them “poopies.”

One day, we went to go check out the “poopies” at the local refuge. Albin literally bounced through the gate. There was a gringa volunteer working that day and she saw Albin’s bleeding heart and instantaneously took over. She showed us a kennel where four little poopies were playing. As soon as we got there, Albin says, “Can we get them?” Me: “Like all of them??? Are you kidding me?” The peppy volunteer lady told me that they wouldn’t get very big. Right.

The lady told us how they thought the poopies were only six weeks old and that they hadn’t received proper nutrients since their mother had left them. I could see Albin’s eyes starting to tear up and I knew how it was going to end. We took home two poopies that day. Albin kept looking over his shoulder at the two left behind, but one of us had to be rational. I kid you not, to this day Albin will randomly mention those two poopies we left and ask if I think someone came to adopt them. Yes. Definitely yes, Albin.

poopies

Brand new poopies

We brought the poopies home and that’s when the fun began. What we didn’t spend in buying a dog with a pedigree, we spent in saving the lives of those dogs. They had every sickness possible: deficiencies in everything, bacteria, impetigo, kennel cough, fleas, diarrhea (everywhere), doggy respiratory infections, allergic reactions, distemper, and fungus. At one point, a not-so-professional veterinarian’s assistant told us in a preschool teacher-like voice that Rocky had distemper and he would die. She also mentioned that if Rocky and Luna had ever shared water, Luna would probably die too. Very encouraging. Over the course of three months and millions of vet visits later, I am too embarrassed to say how much money we dished out; however, it was substantial. I may not be as big of a dog person as Al, but we weren’t going to let them die, obviously. Miraculously, both dogs are still alive and well today, and Albin is as pleased as punch (ok, I am too).

But, there was the fungus. We started noticing that Rocky and Luna had little spots all over them.Their hair began to fall out. I was convinced it was the mange, but after an overpriced vet visit, we found out they had a severe case of doggy ringworm. The vet told us that ringworm couldn’t be passed from canines to humans.

Conveniently, she was wrong.

Not too long after, I started itching all over and quickly developed ringworm spots in EIGHT (!) separate locations on my body. The worst was the one right in the socially unacceptable itching location of my pelvic area. It tormented me. I also had a very obvious one on my neck that my co-workers identified and I adamantly denied. Albin also caught the plague and we were ostracized from society for a good period of time. Even more embarrassing was that before I knew about the fungus, two of our dear friends had come to stay with us and when they returned to the U.S., they realized they had it as well. I was mortified and so.over.it.

Somehow, we all survived and I didn’t ship those dogs back to the refuge. Fortunately, they have immune systems of steel now. They’re still scavengers at heart so they eat whatever animal’s crap they find laying around and lick poisonous frogs, but somehow they always survive.

Luna has some anxiety problems, so she is afraid of anything that moves on its own or makes noise. A plastic bag being blown around the yard is enough to make her hide in the bushes for hours. She also hates mowers, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, blenders, Mariah’s plastic pool, billowing curtains, the stroller, the printer, open refrigerator doors, crinkly paper, tinfoil, and anything that falls.

Luna hiding

Luna hiding in the bushes while I was vacuuming the house

Rocky is a special case as well. If I truly believed in Karma, I would believe that God was punishing him for his deeds in his past life. He has no teeth, no balls, and no tail; no teeth, because he apparently didn’t get enough calcium when he was a puppy. He only has a few little snaggleteeth here and there, so he swallows everything without chewing. He is the most selfish dog on the planet, so if that means he has to swallow a six inch rawhide bone so Luna won’t steal it, he will. This also means that his tongue isn’t held in his mouth by any teeth, so it is just hanging out the side. We made the decision for him to have no balls, but we should all be thankful he wasn’t allowed to procreate. The missing tail is a mystery. Luna is his sister and she has a tail, so we don’t know why he doesn’t. We affectionately refer to his stump as the “mullet chunk.” It has short hair in the front and then a long tuft hanging off of it like a little chunky mullet. I think it must tickle his little butthole because he’s always chasing after it in circles. He is ridiculous, but makes me laugh every day.

Rocky Tongue

Notice Rocky’s Tongue

The Mullet Chunk

The Mullet Chunk

At the end of the day, I suppose the hundreds of dollars that we spent on saving their lives were worth it. Luna loves us with an undying devotion and is clearly thankful we saved her life. Rocky has no conscience and would never let us know he is thankful for anything unless it was a rack of ribs; but I know God gave him to us for comic relief. Even though Rocky’s sole purpose in life is to sneak into Mariah’s room to smell her dirty diaper bin and then run around the yard with my freshly re-planted baby avocado trees in his mouth, I really do love him. He and Luna just add yet another random dimension to this already crazy thing we call our family, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Rocky guarding a green bean he scavenged off of the floor

Rocky guarding a green bean he scavenged off of the floor

Luna guarding Mariah

Luna guarding Mariah… at least one of them has their priorities straight

 

Our Non-Honeymoon (First Year Fails: Part I)

I decided that following my last post about the miscarriage we had after our first month of marriage,  I’m going to post a series of blogs about our first year of marriage. You may think I’m being dramatic when I say that our first year was an epic fail; but in this case, I’m not being dramatic. The only two things that didn’t fail: God (because He doesn’t), and our actual marriage commitment (oh, but it came close). Our honeymoon, my residency, our health, our communication, our living situation, our dogs (at first), our Nissan Sentra, my job– they were all a mess. Some of those circumstances were comical (or at least they are now) and some of them were devastating blows to our marriage. Either way, by the time we got to our first anniversary, we felt like we’d been married for ten years. During that time, people who didn’t know us well would continually give us the provocative eyebrow raise and make references about how we were in the “honeymoon period,” but really had no idea that we were barely surviving that special sexy season. Then they would say, “Just wait until year seven, then it really gets difficult.” I think we died inside just a little bit every time we heard that.

Lest you fret that this series of blogs will be entirely negative, this first entry is pretty light and comical, mostly because it was RIGHT after we got married. I can also say that even though a lot of crappy things happened our first year, we did survive, and we’re stronger for it. We’ve struggled immensely, fought hard, and loved well. We’ve come to know each other in amazing ways and have a profound respect for each other now that we’ve seen how the other responds to difficulty. Most importantly, we’ve learned that Christ is the center of our marriage and have come to understand that He is the only reason any marriage is truly successful. I hope these posts are encouraging to any of you who aren’t living a Facebook photo-worthy marriage or feel like you missed the boat on the good old honeymoon period …

Albin was able to get two weeks off for our wedding. He flew to Cincinnati, we got married six days later, flew back to Costa Rica three days later, bought a bed and settled into our apartment for one night, and then spent the next night at my suegra’s (mother-in-law’s) house for our excursión the next day. Excursión sounds so much more exotic than it really is. Basically, appliances are expensive in Costa Rica since they have an import tax placed on them. To get around the import tax, there is a tax-free zone, called “Golfito,” in the southern part of the country. It’s very common to go to Golfito  through an excursión, which is when a company with a bus takes care of your transportation and lodging for your trip. Each person is allowed to spend $1,000 in Golfito per year, so my suegra and Albin’s abuela (grandma) went with us so we could divide up our money to buy our big appliances (found out later that everyone is allowed to spend $2,000 per year, which means suegra and abuela didn’t need to go after all). Back to the story.

We spent the night at my suegra’s and slept in abuela’s single bed (this was the 5th night of marriage, mind you) the night before our expedition. At 5 a.m. we got to the bus stop and a large and in-charge Tica woman named Doña Adelita welcomed a big group of us. We arrived in Golfito in six hours with no problem. We were greeted by a wall of humid heat the minute we got off the bus. By now you know about my sweating problem, so you can imagine. Doña Adelita got up and gave us the “rules.” That day we had three hours to make all of our purchases. We would leave promptly after three hours and head for the border of Panama, where we would spend the night in their “accommodations” and have a chance to shop at the border crossing (i.e. seediest place in the Western Hemisphere). The following day we would return and have two hours to pick up our purchases and get them ready to be shipped back home (it was a rule).

I don’t know how to even describe how this all went down. If you remember the game show “Supermarket Sweep,” then you’ll have an idea. We literally had to run from place to place, comparing prices, bargaining, and buying in 100 degree heat. It was so stressful. Three hours may seem like a lot until you realize you have to compare, bargain, and buy your washer, dryer, oven, microwave, fridge, pots, pans, toaster, blender, Crockpot, and television–all in different stores. On top of that, add in suegra and abuela giving their opinions and telling us what to do, Albin trying to translate everything since I was lost in life, and the lack of sleep due to just getting married. Just imagine me panting and sweating with a deer-in-headlights look on my face as all that bartering and opinionating is going on in Spanish. In literally no time, Doña Adelita was blowing her foghorn and saying it was time to go. Right now.

We shuffled onto the bus headed for the border. Absolute chaos at the border. We eventually arrived at our accommodations which weren’t anything comparable to a hotel, motel, or Holiday Inn. It was an 8×8’ room and it was ghetto. My suegra and abuela graciously took the bunk beds so we newly-weds could take the double bed (6th night of marriage), locked the door tight, and tried to justify in our heads that all of this was completely normal.

The next morning, Doña Adelita rolled up at 5 a.m. and we went back to the free zone to pick up our items. I swear it was hotter than the day before. We secured all of our items and got all of the receipts in order to go through what is essentially a customs line. As we neared the front of the line, Albin started frantically shuffling through the receipts. He couldn’t find the one from the washer and we wouldn’t be allowed out with our new washer without the receipt. Utter panic ensued. We lost our place in the long line and went running to every store trying to find the receipt. So. Much. Sweat.

As abuela guarded our purchases, we ran around rabidly trying to ignore Doña Adelita’s loudspeaker notifying us that we were about to miss the bus. At the last minute, we found that blessed golden ticket at one of the stores and ran back to the line, begging Doña Adelita not to leave us. She had mercy on us and we were able to get our appliances on the shipping truck.

Back on the bus, I passed out immediately and slept for about two hours. Up until this point, the bus was air-conditioned and was the only respite from the unbearable humidity. Naturally, the air-conditioner was overworked and went out. The windows of the bus were airtight (due to it normally being a bus with AC), so there was no air flow. We started stripping. Then the bus driver had the brilliant idea to turn on a movie to distract us. It was reminiscent of Saw III. Between the gore in the movie, the boiling bus, and the curvy mountain road, someone was bound to get sick. Of course it was the lady next to us. She started throwing up and you can imagine how that went seeing as the windows wouldn’t open. People were moaning the whole way home.

The good news is that we made it home. There was a problem with the shipping truck and we didn’t receive our appliances for four days, which wasn’t a huge problem at first since we slept for two days straight. Things started to become dire when our clothes from the excursion started rotting and smelling up our apartment along with the food that couldn’t be kept cold due to no refrigerator. Oh, and did I mention it was Christmas? We went to Denny’s for Christmas breakfast. Sigh.

Moral of the story: Go on a real honeymoon.  Seriously, I know there was the whole thing about not having enough money, or time off work or needing the appliances, but we TOTALLY regret not having a honeymoon.

 

A Miscarriage After Our First Month of Marriage

Positiva.

Even though my Spanish wasn’t excellent, I couldn’t mess that up. It was clearly positive. When I opened the email containing my blood test results, I skipped over everything else and went straight to the part that showed my hCG hormone levels and arrived at that one word that started a ripple effect in my life.

Positiva.

It took my breath away. Like the time I fell out of the big tree we always used to climb in my grandparents’ backyard as kids. I landed on my back and for a few moments the impact left me breathless for what seemed like an eternity. On the day I read my pregnancy test results, it was very similar. It hit me with such an impact that I was stunned. I wasn’t expecting it at all and I was left gasping for some sanity.

This is an intimate blog. I want to be vulnerable because I know I’m not the only one who has struggled through this. Some of the following is very personal, but it is heavy on my heart to share it openly and honestly.

About two and a half weeks into our marriage, I felt a little out of sync and suspected a UTI or a yeast infection, so I went to the doctor. He confirmed my suspicions and then asked if I was pregnant. I nervously laughed and said that we had only gotten married two weeks ago. He put me on medicine and said no sex for at least a week. Exactly what you want to hear your first month of marriage … after you’ve just had a long-distance relationship for 17 months.

After a week of abstinence and medicine, my infection started getting a little better, but I was still feeling a little odd, so the doctor sent me in for a blood test to check out my cell counts and other medical things I didn’t understand. The thing I did understand was that he also asked them to check for the pregnancy hormone. I was panicking. I hadn’t even been married for a month, I was still dealing with culture shock from my mission trip, still getting to know (again) this man I married after a ridiculous long-distance relationship, still getting accustomed to moving back to Costa Rica after being gone for almost two years, super emotional from all the changes, and frustrated that we couldn’t have sex for two weeks during our first month of marriage. Everything was out of control.

Then I received my results. Positiva. I was pregnant. Two days before our one-month anniversary, I found out we were expecting and I literally could not handle it. I’m ashamed to say it, but honestly, I was devastated. This wasn’t what I had planned and I didn’t feel emotionally stable enough to take yet another change on top of all the madness. It was so overwhelming, I just shut down.

I spent a few days in survival mode. Albin tried the best he could, but I would just lay in bed and cry. I felt lost. I was thousands of miles away from my family and my best friends, and my poor husband was at a loss. Finally, a couple of days later, he sat down and told me that we needed to accept that I was pregnant and that he wanted our baby to be “wanted.” Completely valid, and again, I felt completely ashamed. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to love or want our child, I was just too overwhelmed to fathom that we were going to have a child. Albin’s comment struck my heart though, and that day I decided that I was going to accept that I was pregnant, embrace this new life inside of me, and move forward.

Over the next few days, we began working through this new situation and I started coming to terms with the fact that things were going to be different and that was okay. I knew God had a plan and it’s not like we were unwed teenagers with no means to support ourselves. I was 26 and Albin was 30. All my friends were on their second child. It wasn’t the end of the world by any means.

Then I started having some back pains. Then stomach cramps. Then spotting. I was so confused. We had just started to embrace this baby and move forward. Albin took me to the doctor. I can’t adequately describe my emotions at this point. I was in a daze. I remember sitting in the cold, white examining room and trying to answer the medical questions being fired at me in Spanish, but instead just wanting to be at home in bed. At one point, the nurse asked me something I didn’t understand. I looked to Albin helplessly, but he didn’t know how to translate her question. After a long and grotesque description of the word they were using, I realized she was asking if there were many clots coming out in my blood. I affirmed that there were and she tried not to show her dismay. I could see in her eyes what I already knew. I was having a miscarriage. The doctor drew blood and checked my hormone levels again. My hCG levels were dropping and I was losing our baby. Again, I was left speechless.

One of the worst parts of that day was that they kept referring to the miscarriage as an “aborto.” In my mind, aborto= abortion. Being adamantly pro-life, I kept trying to correct them and tell them that I didn’t have an abortion. Albin gently explained to me that “aborto” was the medical term they used also for when a woman’s body rejects a baby naturally. It seemed too harsh. All I was hearing was, “Your body is aborting your baby.” Like I had chosen to lose this baby. Like my body wasn’t good enough to keep the baby in. It’s almost too painful for me to write about. I felt like my heart was being ripped out.

I went home and was paralyzed with shock. A little over a month ago I was in a white wedding dress with a beautiful adventure in front of me. It wasn’t supposed to look like this. The next few days were miserable. If you have ever had a miscarriage, you know how excruciatingly painful it is for you to see those “clots” and all the blood. Part of you is seeping out slowly and there is nothing you can do about it. It was absolutely sickening for me to flush the toilet because I knew. I knew it wasn’t just a normal period and that fact left an internal wound somewhere in me that I didn’t even know existed.

Then it is over. You’re left empty. Lost in your own thoughts. Overwhelmed with regret, shame, grief, confusion, leftover hormones, and shock. It came in waves. Waves that threatened to pull me under with each fresh swell. If I’m brutally honest, I was so afraid. I was terrified that it was my fault we lost our baby since I had cried so much about not being ready when I first found out I was pregnant. I was devastated all over again.

Those were some of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced. Because of the miscarriage, sex was off-limits for another two weeks. I mention that because not having sex for a month during your first two months of marriage creates a lot of unwanted distance. On top of that, I was so utterly wrecked that I didn’t even want Albin to come near me. One of my biggest mistakes was not sitting down and working through everything that had happened. I tried to move forward and forget because I felt like I couldn’t handle the burden of everything. My family and friends felt a million miles away. I didn’t tell many people about our loss because it was too painful and too abrupt. Several people that I did tell tried to comfort me by saying “at least it was an early miscarriage.” I stopped telling people I had a miscarriage after I heard that a few times. Does the fact that we lost the baby in an “early miscarriage” make that baby’s life any less valuable? I felt as though my grief was unjustified when people said that. I understood what they meant. They were relieved that I wasn’t far along enough to have to suffer through the D & C procedure, relieved that I hadn’t told all of Facebook and started purchasing baby clothes. I truly did understand, but in my head all I heard was that I had no right to mourn like other women whose situation was “worse.”  People who meant well were incredibly hurtful and I tried not to be offended, but we had lost a part of us. How could I not take it personal?

It took months for my body and hormones to get regulated again. I wish I could say the same for my heart and my mind. I had been through so much in such a short time, I was literally reeling. We went through several very difficult situations after this as well (future blogs to come) and I felt like a trapeze artist tottering on a high wire, afraid that one misstep was going to send me into an abyss of depression that I couldn’t get out of. I was overwhelmed with confusion. I kept asking God why He allowed that to happen so soon after getting married and during a time when I was going through so many other things. Why did I have to even find out I was pregnant? If I hadn’t received the blood tests saying I was pregnant, would I have known? Would I have just thought I was having a late and abnormally heavy period? Was all of that necessary? I wouldn’t say I was angry, but I was shaken to the core.

There are a lot of questions that are still unanswered, but one thing I can say that I am certain of now: God was there in the midst of that situation. Just as He has been intimately involved in every aspect of my life since day one. None of these things were a surprise to Him. He holds our lives in His hands and He cares. He knew and created that baby inside of me even though it was just starting to form. He held that little life in His hands.

For a long time, I had almost pretended that the miscarriage didn’t happen, like it was just some bad nightmare. About a year and a half after it happened, I wasn’t able to sleep one night and I heard the Lord whispering to my heart. He told me many personal things, but I want to share something that set me free in a lot of ways.

Tricia, that baby was real. All of that really happened. It’s okay to acknowledge that and grieve your loss.  Someday you will meet him in heaven, but for now, I’m taking care of him for you.

I can’t even begin to describe to you the release that I felt in my heart. The permission to truly grieve and to be reminded that the Creator was intimately involved in the situation gave peace to my heart. The Lord started to heal those deep places of my soul that were wounded from our loss, and also began to heal the pain from the cutting words people had unknowingly pierced me with.

Healing, as always, has been a process. I had to work through the thought that maybe my body was defective in some way and that I wasn’t able to do the one thing women were supposed to be able to do. I had to work through mixed feelings when friends found out they were pregnant. I had to surrender the paralyzing fear of having another miscarriage when I was pregnant with Mariah. Oh, and I still hesitate when people ask me if Mariah is my first child. Yes, well no, but do I really want to explain?

The ugly truth is that a miscarriage is a heart-wrenching experience and the healing process isn’t easy by any means. The beautiful truth is that our Creator is intimately involved in every moment of our lives, from conception to our last breath.  He knows that there is a time to grieve and a time to rejoice and is there in the midst of it all. He is there with us when life knocks the wind out of us and He is there in every positiva that comes our way. He is not surprised, not confused, and never uncertain of the next step. I can rest in the fact that since He created the depths of our souls, He is more than capable of healing them too.

I would love to hear from you on this one, especially if you’ve gone through a similar situation. It’s always encouraging for me to hear that I’m not alone from people that understand.

Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 139:13-16

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

.

My Favorite Spanish Mistakes So far…

Everyone loves a good translation mistake, especially if it is embarrassing, inappropriate, etc. Most of these errors are funny because the appropriate word was accidentally substituted with the inappropriate word. All of these examples are errors that I have made or people close to me have made. This is not a time to be offended by curse words. If you know you will be offended, you should just stop reading now.  If you know both languages, this will be funnier, but I tried to provide adequate explanations for those who don’t speak Spanish so they can understand my folly.

  1. Molestar= to bother. During my first few weeks in Costa Rica, as a kindergarten teacher, I had to do a lot of “translating.” My Spanish was awful, but nine of my students spoke only Spanish and nine of my students spoke only English. On a particularly frustrating day when my students would not stop bothering each other, I accidentally yelled, “Stop molesting each other!” Obviously my kids were oblivious, however, the principal and the prospective parents in the hallway were not. Fail.
  2. Luz= Light. Once I saw a huge bug flying around our apartment and I asked Al if he could get the “bug that was on the loose.” He didn’t respond. I repeat, “There is a bug on the loose. Can you get it?” Still no response and I look over at him as he stands there looking at the ceiling light with a dumb look on his face. I start to say it again when he says, “Tricia, I am looking at the luz and there are no bugs on it.” Bahaha
  3. Boots or boobs? Once before we were dating, we were with two of our best friends who were also single at the time. We were hiking a volcano and it was raining, so we were wearing boots. Yoji, our guy friend, meant to tell Kate that he liked her boots, but instead he said, “Kate, I like your boobs.” He keeps walking without acknowledging his mistake, but since I’m immature and can’t let an opportunity like this pass up, I lost it.
  4. Backs and butts are very different. Trasero = butt, espalda = back. One day in the teacher’s lounge I was talking about how sweet my Tica sister was. I was telling everyone about how one night we were at a youth gathering at church and she was helping a friend work through a difficult situation. It was a long church service, my Tica sister sat and rubbed her friend’s back as she cried for three hours. As I was telling my coworkers about this sweet act, I mistakenly said, “My sister is so sweet, she just rubbed that girl’s trasero for three hours.”
  5. Sheet on the bed. Once I arrived at a hostel to find out there was only one sheet on the bed. I get pretty chilly at night, so I went down to the lobby and asked the receptionist (who would only speak in English to me) for another sheet on the bed. His reaction was priceless; he was dumbfounded. He asked, “Is there sheet on the bed?” I answered that, yes, there was a sheet, but I would like another. He repeats, “There is sheet on the bed?” Yes. Clearly he isn’t understanding, so I start speaking caveman because I think he only understands caveman. I say, “Yes. Sheet on bed. I want more sheet on bed.” He stands up, gets angry and says, “Why anyone wants more sheet on bed?” and as I start to say, “Because I get cold…” he proceeds to run out the door. Now I’m dumbfounded. I look at Kate and she shrugs with a bewildered look on her face. The receptionist comes back and yells angrily, “THERE IS NO SHEET ON THE BED!!!” I know this. This is why I came asking in the first place … and then it hits me. He thinks I’m saying there is sh*t on the bed since in Spanish, “i” is pronounced with a long “ee” sound. He literally thinks I’m complaining that there is sh*t on the bed and that I would like more sh*t on the bed. Let’s just say that there might not have been sh*t on my bed that night, but I probably peed my sheets that night as I thought about him running in screaming, “THERE’S NO SHEET ON THE BED!”
  6. Huge racks. I always ask Albin to message me when he gets to work so I know he made it safe. One unfortunate day he accidentally wrote his message in my family’s Whatsapp group and it read, “Sorry I didn’t message you. There was a huge rack on the road so I was late to work.” Of course he meant “huge wreck,” but since my family is about as mature as I am, there were many jokes about “huge racks” stopping traffic that day. I told him the only rack that should be stopping his traffic is mine. lol
  7. Tiene miedo = he has fear (he is afraid). Tiene mierda = he has sh*t. Love this one. I team-taught my first year of kindergarten with a lovely Tica named Victoria. She was wonderful, but many of the little Gringo children were afraid of her because they had no idea what she was saying in Spanish. This was a missionary school, so parents were generally very amicable. One day, a missionary mom came to Victoria to talk to her about how her son was afraid in the class. The well-meaning missionary who was just starting to learn Spanish came to her and rather than saying “Él tiene miedo en tu clase,” instead said, “Él tiene mierda en tu clase” which means “He has sh*t in your class.” Victoria told me that she was speechless. At first, she was confused that a kid pooped himself in class and she didn’t notice, and second, slightly offended that the missionary used such a strong word as “mierda” in conversation. Third, she died inside when she finally realized what the lady actually meant.
  8. Huge Disclaimer: This is the worst. I may have dropped the F-bomb completely on accident. Please read this with grace: Recogerme= pick me up, cogerme= F%$# me. When Albin and I started dating, I was seeing a tutor to help me with my verbs. I was going out of town the next week, so my tutor asked me who was going to pick me up from the airport. I had told her about my budding relationship with Albin, so I wanted to tell her that Albin was going to pick me up (recogerme). Instead, I said, “Albin va a cogerme.” which, based on the translation above, you can figure out that what I said was highly inappropriate for this missionary kindergarten teacher to her tutor. Major fail. My tutor knew what I meant and tried to ignore the mistake with grace but then started turning red from trying to contain her laughter. She almost fell off her chair because she was laughing so hard.

The best part about committing these errors is that the humiliation is burned in your brain and you never make the mistake again…hopefully.  Let’s all be very thankful for that.

My (surprise) gynecologist visit in Costa Rica

This traumatizing story is such a classic that it deserves a repost from my very first blog in CR.

A little background: In Costa Rica, the country has a Social Security system, the Caja, which offers free medical care to any citizen/resident that pays their taxes. Except for the ungodly long lines and general confusion, the care you receive is pretty good.

My second year in CR, I came down with what was probably my fifth case of bronchitis during rainy season. I was eligible to receive care from the Caja, and since I’m always up for free stuff, I decided to try it out. My first mistake was that I went alone, because despite my lofty thoughts, I was not good at Spanish. Basically, you have to go before 7 a.m. to the clinic and wait in a line to get a ficha (a little paper with a number). Based on that ficha, you are given an appointment time. After waiting in the wrong line and not doing the right thing, I finally practiced my Spanish out in my head enough times to ask the people around me what I needed to do. I was profusely sweating, naturally. I finally received my appointment time; it was scheduled for 3:15 p.m. I walked home and went back to bed.

I drag myself back over there at 3:15 p.m. and finally get called in. The nurse asks me to explain my symptoms and I tell her about the bronchitis, fever, etc. We are understanding each other pretty well until she uses a word I have NEVER heard in my life.

Papanicolaou.

It is definitely a question and she is definitely waiting to know if I want one. If you’ve ever learned another language, you know that context is everything. If context isn’t working, grab onto anything that sounds familiar and go with it. Well, all I understood was “papa” in this case.

My first guess: Papá = Dad. Who knows, maybe she is talking about something hereditary. I say, “Mi papá no está aquí” which means, “My dad is not here.” She looks at me like I am crazy, but politely asks me the same question.

My second guess: Papa = Potato. I can’t think of a good reason why she would talk about potatoes at this point, but I´m starting to panic, so I ask, “Porque estás hablando de papas?” which means, “Why are you talking about potatoes?” She seems frustrated now and tells me that we are not talking about potatoes.

Well, if we’re not talking about dads or potatoes, then what are we talking about? She explains that aforementioned word means that a doctor will revise my lady parts. What the ??? Why would I want someone to “revise my lady parts” if I have bronchitis? At this point, the sweat is pouring freely from my every pore.

Papanicolaou = Pap Smear (Come to find out later, Albin lets me know that they do routine paps when people come in if there isn’t any record of one on file?) Why the nurse thought now was a good time is still beyond me.

Anyway, I thought it over and since I’m the cheapest person alive and a multi-tasker, I thought about how I could kill two birds with one stone today and save money on a gyno appointment in the states. I get over the weirdness of the nurse’s proposition and go for it.

I get into the doctor’s office and it’s a he(!). I’ve never had a man gyno, so I start getting nervous. He doesn’t even look up but tells me not-so-gently to drop my pants. I follow instructions and slide onto the table because by this point, I am swimming in sweat. I’m super tense. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but 50 percent of you know how super tense works out during a pap smear. The doctor starts sternly barking in Spanish that I need to relax. I cannot relax. This is not a time for relaxing. Just as I am having second, third, and fourth thoughts about my decision, he tells me not to worry and shows me the metal contraption that they use to conduct the procedure. I’m pretty sure that I screamed. It looked MASSIVE to these virgin eyes. Traumatizing. I sucked it up and got it over with. The doctor was so annoyed but I didn’t care, I practically ran out of the room back to the nurses’ station.

All sweaty, I sat back down at her desk and she takes me over to a check-up table and tells me to drop my pants. Are you crazy? I refused. She told me she was giving me an injection of antibiotic for my bronchitis (so she did understand that I was there for the bronchitis). Fine. So I dropped the pants and laid on the table. She shoots me in the cheek and the proceeds to say, “Oops.”

“Oops” is like the last word you want to hear when you’re at the doctor’s office. I asked what happened and she told me that some of the liquid came out (or at least that’s what I understood). She apologized and said that I might experience some muscle spasms as a result. Ha.

You. Have. NO. Idea.

As I grabbed the antibiotics they had prepared for me, I felt a small twinge in my butt cheek. I started walking home and I now wish I had video proof, but I’ll just have to describe it. For you women out there, you know how you kind of waddle out after a pap-smear? I was already doing the slight waddle, then I experienced the largest muscle spasm I’ve ever had in my butt.  They would come and go every few minutes. I had to waddle six blocks to get home, stopping every few minutes as my whole butt contorted in ways I didn’t know possible. It was humiliating. I can’t even imagine what the neighbors thought.

When I walked in to my Tico family’s house, my Costa Rican mom looked terrified and asked what happened to me. I was crying and waddling and coughing and spasming, and she just starts LAUGHING. Like, hysterically laughing. It’s the contagious kind of laughing, so I stop crying and start laughing hysterically. More hysteric than laughing, but whatever. I survived.The sad part is that I never went back to get the results because I was too humiliated. All that trauma for nothing.

So, for all of you out there who asked me why I paid to have my baby in a private hospital rather than to do it for free in the Caja, now you know.

CCSS

Poop Samples (How I knew Al was the one for me)

Disclaimer: This blog isn’t for the weak of stomach, but it is for all you romance lovers.

Before Albin and I were even “official,” I got really sick. I was exhausted all the time and had diarrhea for days. Convinced I had some jungle disease (though despite what Jurassic Park portrays, San Jose is not located in a remote jungle on the beach), I went to the doctor. The doctor said it was probably a bacteria so we started a poop sample correspondence.

Now poop sample correspondences are challenging little suckers that require patience and a very personal relationship with your doctor. First, you have to buy those little plastic cups (can someone please tell me why they are clear plastic?). Second, you have to carry them around for when nature calls (usually at the most inopportune moment). Third, you have to use the little scoopy wand thing they give you to fish your mess out of the toilet (yuck). Fourth, you have to do the walk of shame back to the doctors within two hours of the BM (so the poop doesn’t go “bad”). There is also the option of putting it in the fridge to preserve it, which is despicable. Even if no one else knows you have poop in your purse, you do, and it haunts you.

A few days into our little stool-sharing endeavor, I realized my sludge was pretty potent. So potent, in fact, that if I let it sit for any amount of time in the little cup, the pressure(?) would blow the top off the container (I warned you). I promise this is going somewhere.

Well, after many days of the runs, I became dehydrated and Albin ran me to the hospital. Right before I left the apartment I grabbed a fresh sample and also grabbed a less recent sample from earlier in the day that was being preserved in the fridge (don’t judge me). I shoved them in my purse and prayed neither would pop on the way.

I’m sure you’ll be disappointed to find out that they didn’t explode en route, but I was quite relieved. We arrived at the hospital and as I was hooked up to an IV, I croaked something about having the vials hidden in a brown paper bag in my purse. I was not at the top of my game with Spanish skills at that moment, but I tried to explain that one vial had the time written on it (from earlier in the day), while the blank vial was my most recent creation. The doctor didn’t understand. I explained again. Still, there was confusion. Much to my dismay, Albin took over. He grabbed the vials out of my purse, one still a little warm for sure, and explained which was which. I was mortified as they both studied those little transparent flasks of nast. We weren’t even officially dating and this guy was holding a canister of my rotting, freshly baked guts. I might have faked passing out right then.

Anyway, that pretty much sealed the deal. That’s a real man. Surprisingly, I lived to tell about the experience and found out I had Mono and some bacteria. I’m pretty sure that up until this point, my parents thought Albin was just a passing fling, but when I recounted the story to my parents the next day, my mom said, “Wow, he might be the one for you.”

And the one for me he was. Any man that can hold my still-warm feces in his hand one minute and look at me adoringly in the next deserves some respect…and my heart.

He is Not the Enemy

The other day when I went to my suegra’s (MIL) house, one of Albin’s aunts was there without her newish husband. He’s from Italy and she’s a Tica and they’ve been in CR visiting for a month. Things were weird but I wasn’t about to ask what was going on. I have my own drama to deal with.

Later on in the week, we heard the full story. Specifics aren’t important, but basically the Italian’s son came to CR to visit and had some difficulty at a border crossing with a Costa Rican official regarding a requirement for crossing into Panama. Said Italians proceeded to get frustrated and newish husband made a pointed comment referring to “Latin American inefficiency” to said Latin American aunt. Said pointed comment hating on Latin Americans was not appreciated by Latin American aunt. If you’re married to someone from another country and you’ve ever even remotely been snubbed by your significant other by demeaning your country, I’m sure you can guess how fast things went downhill after that. Don’t worry, they worked it out and they’re fine now.

As I was sitting there listening to Albin’s mom, grandma, and another aunt describe the situation and totally throw the “newish husband” under the bus for his uncalled-for and immature behavior, I couldn’t help but smile.

I TOTALLY get it.

I had a moment to myself and then decided to stick up for that hot-blooded Italian. If I had a dollar for every time I took out my frustration of Latino ways on my Latino husband, we’d be loaded. Sure, his comment was uncalled-for; obviously the immigration inefficiency is not the aunt’s fault; clearly the situation could have been handled differently. I’m not saying he’s right at all, but just that I understand. How many times have I been stuck in San Jose traffic for hours and come home raging against Costa Rican infrastructure and all things Costa Rica to my Costa Rican husband? How many times have I made rude comments to Albin knowing that I’m cutting down his culture and “inadvertently” cutting him down as well?

It is so easy to blame the other person. It is so easy to take out your frustration on your mate because they’re there and they embody the culture to you. Somewhere around our second year of marriage, I realized that I was making Albin the enemy. When something in his culture didn’t meet my expectations, I would take it out on him. I’m not perfect and obviously, it seems that sometimes I can just be downright mean. I’m almost embarrassed to write this out, but I want to be painfully honest about the things that I’ve learned so that maybe someone else won’t have to struggle as much as we did. Once I realized this unhealthy pattern, I found a lot of freedom. I recognized that CR traffic was my enemy (lol), not Albin. I had to humble myself and ask for forgiveness for letting my frustration get the best of me and for belittling his country, and subsequently, him. Then I had to find ways to fight against my negativity towards whatever “my enemy” was. Let’s just say I’ve listened to millions of hours of audio books while stuck in my car.

So, after explaining all this to Al’s family; they were quiet, but I’m pretty sure I saw some understanding in their eyes. They’ve seen us go through this process and they’ve seen a lot of my ugliness. They’ve also seen me grow, learn, and become more flexible. The best thing I saw in their eyes was grace. They might not quite understand why I am the way I am or why I’ve struggled in the ways that I have, but they see me trying hard and they respect it.

Moral of the story? Your spouse is not the enemy. Rather than verbally vomit all over your beloved because of something they literally have no control over, speak life over them. I promise it will make everyone involved feel a lot better.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

Has this happened to anyone else? I’d love to hear about it.